“EVERYBODY WENT TO ALBANY for one reason or another. They went to Keeler’s, they were here for the track. It had nightlife. Bright lights, roulette wheels, hot-mattress hotels.” William Kennedy is explaining the appeal of the city that gives a unique texture to his nine novels. It’s the city in which he was born and schooled and spent much of his literary apprenticeship.
photo by Leif Zurmuhlen
Bing launches into “Shine,” a hit song for him in a lively recording with the Mills Brothers. The racist overtones of the song’s lyrics have troubled many commentators, despite champions like Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald, and this controversy gives the novel its philosophical backbone as social tensions spark violent revolutions in two different cities.
“As I was finishing Roscoe, I had this, my next novel, in sight. There were two elements that inspired it. First was the civil-rights movement, which I wrote about in Albany. And then there was a jazz pianist named Jody Bolden, who played in Albany during the ’50s and ’60s. The song brought those elements together.”